Drives: South West (5 days)

The south-west is one of the prettiest corners of Western Australia where nothing is too far away from anything else - something rare in a state where in some parts the next town is often just a tiny settlement over an hour's drive away. Being where the Southern Ocean meets the Indian Ocean, the South-West has higher rainfall than anywhere else in the state except for the tropical north, resulting in dense forests and lush green farmland that are a pleasure to drive through. On this drive there is dramatic coastal scenery, particularly on the south coast, to photograph, wild but friendly dolphins to interact with at Bunbury, giant waves to surf at Yallingup and Prevelly, acclaimed wines to taste at Margaret River, and a giant Karri tree to climb at Pemberton.

Distance: 1,041 km

Day 1: Journey south on South Western Highway, passing Serpentine National Park with its two picturesque dams and a few waterfalls. Continue along the Highway towards Pinjarra, one of the oldest towns in Western Australia, that is situated on the banks of the Murray River. It has always ben a great place to stop for some friendly country service and a delicious home cooked meal. From Pinjarra, head towards Mandurah on the coast, travelling through the Peel Region. Its large tracts of land, while not being stunningly pretty, remain untouched and give the drive an air of peace and tranquillity.

Geographe Bay

Mandurah, now almost an outer suburb of Perth, is a great place from which to explore the Murray River and the Peel waterways, boats and canoes are available for hire in Mandurah as is fishing and crabbing gear. Take the Old Coast Road from Manduarah, passing the coastal lakes of Yalgorup National Park. Rock-like structures known as thrombolites can be seen on the edge of Lake Clifton.

Like the famous Stromatolites of Hamelin Pool, in Shark Bay, the thrombolites are built by micro-organisms too small for the human eye to see. Lake Clifton is one of only a few places in Western Australia where living thrombolites survive. Bunbury is the major port for the South West, mainly for the export of woodchips and alumina these days.

It has some interesting heritage buildings, good surfing (and sunsets) at Back Beach, a wildlife conservation park and wild but friendly dolphins that interact with people at the Leschenault Waterways Discovery Centre in Koombana Bay. Follow the shores of Geographe Bay for an overnight stay at the resort town of Busselton. 247 km

Sugarloaf Rock

Day 2: Continue west from Busselton around Geographe Bay to the holiday and retirement towns of Siesta Park and Dunsborough and Cape Naturaliste (historic lighthouse). The coastal scenery changes as you head south to Yallingup, the centre for surfing and the surfing culture in these parts. Prevelly Beach to the south is also a favourite though quite challenging place to surf. Canal Rocks is a great place to clambers over rocks and look for shells, crabs etc. while dodging the pounding seas that roll in endlessly.

The whole region to the south is limestone country, meaning that it is also caves and wine country. Guided tours are available at caves at Yallingup, Margaret River and Augusta to the south. As you leave Yallingup via Caves Road, you enter one of Australia's premier red wine producing regions - Margaret River. Blessed with an almost perfect Mediterranean climate, it is ideal grape growing country, and award-winning wineries abound.

The region has become famous for its fruity, dry whites, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. The renowned Margaret River Wine Region Festival is held every November. Tours, maps, details of events etc. are available from the visitor's centre at the Margaret River township. Continue south, either on Caves Road or Bussell Highway to Augusta.

Ngilgi Cave

Cape Leeuwin

Just out of town is Cape Leeuwin, a rugged, windswept jumble of rocks where the Southern Ocean meets the Indian Ocean. This point is just about as far away as you can get without leaving the country from almost any place on Australia's eastern seaboard.

The Cape Leeuwin lighthouse is open for inspection (entry fees apply) and the calcified waterwheel nearby is an interesting relic from the past. Return via the Bussell Highway as far as the Brockman Highway junction. Take that highway to Nannup, then drive south along Vasse Highway to Pemberton. 138 km

Beedelup Falls

Day 3: On the assumption that you would have not arrived early enough on Day 2 to have seen much of Pemberton, spend the morning having a look around. The short drive through the forests to Beedelup Falls, trout hatchery and Walk Through Tree (a 75 m, 400 year old karri which has a hole which visitors can walk through). The town's most popular tourist attraction is the huge Gloucester Tree with its fire lookout some 64 metres above the ground, reached by climbing a hair-raising 153 rung ladder up the side of the tree to the top.

Take the road to Northcliffe and then Middleton road to join South Western Highway. Turn right towards Shannon and the pretty south coast towns of Walpole (the big Tingle Tree at Hilltop is a must-see), Nornalup and Denmark that are extremely popular with Perth holiday-makers. The coastal scenery around here is pretty and in places quite stunning, making it an ideal area to come for a spot of fishing, beachcombing or bushwalking.. If you tear yourself away, head for Albany for a two night stay there. 239 km

Natural Bridge, Albany

Day 4: Albany is the site of the first European settlement in Australia. Its main street seems to go straight into the Princess Royal Harbour, as if to warn visitors that this is a place full of surprises. Unlike anywhere else in southern WA, it rains a lot, 942 mm per year to be exact. It can also get quite cold when the winds from Antarctica blow straight off the ocean.

A wind farm that takes full advantage of the locality, welcomes visitors and has good signage to explain this eco-friendly technology. Albany sits on the edge of one of the largest natural harbours in the world. On its shore is a former whaling station that is now an excellent museum dedicated to whales and whaling. Whales still come to Albany, and are often seen between July and October in the calm waters off Middleton Beach.

A blowhole, gap and huge natural bridge are just minutes away from each other can be found on a superb stretch of dramatic coastline weathered by the timeless forces of the Southern Ocean. These are just a few of the many places to visit in and around Albany.

Castle Rock, Porongurup Ranges

Day 5: The return trip to Perth from Albany takes around 5 hours and for most people it is a straight drive through. Therefore, take as long as you like seeing more of Albany and surrounds on Day 5 before you leave via Albany Highway. On they way home you'll pass the Porongurup Ranges, where you can take some great scenic walks. 417 km

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